Cover image for Michener and me : a memoir
Title:
Michener and me : a memoir
Author:
Silverman, Herman.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : Running Press, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
224 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780762406203
Format :
Book

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PS3525.I225 Z8 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Written by his close friend of 50 years, Michener and Me is a colorful remembrance of bestselling writer James Michener. With personal photographs and letters not previously published, this is an intimate portrait, beginning with the postwar years in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Author Herman Silverman, a nationally successful entrepreneur, is chairman of the board of the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and a gifted storyteller.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Two books from small presses take a look back at a giant of popular literature. One need not be a fan of the much-published Michener's huge historical novels or travel tales to enjoy Grobel's wide-ranging romp through Michener's strong opinions on writers and writing, American education, politics, women's and gay rights, and race matters. Grobel first interviewed Michener 20 years ago and revised recent interviews only months before Michener died in 1996 at age 90. Michener, a Quaker who wrote his first book while a Navy lieutenant in the South Pacific, once earned a living as a teacher and as an editor at now-defunct Macmillan before Rogers and Hammerstein's music made him famous. Michener was a self-proclaimed "women's libber," in touch with his feminine side from an early age, who declared writers an "aberrant" bunch. He was most influenced by Wharton, Dostoevsky, Dreiser, and Joyce Carol Oates, and suggested that racial politics govern even the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature. Michener's political and economic advice sometimes seems dubious, but readers will relish his insights into writing and writers. Silverman, a close friend of Michener's for half a century, purports to share "intimate, personal times" the two had and includes some of their letters. They met in 1947 at a gathering of "liberal" World War II veterans, and Silverman admits he had neither heard of nor read Michener's work at the time. Silverman says Michener "rarely talked about his work, but . . . never really stopped working." Silverman delves into Michener's liberal political causes (including an unsuccessful run for Congress on the Democratic ticket in 1962), his three marriages (the third, a "mixed" union with a Japanese woman at a time when feelings against such marriages ran high), and his prodigious philanthropies, though he was "personally frugal." A story of friendship with warts and all, Silverman reveals the complicated personality of a driven writer who also managed personal success with his friends, wives, students, and millions of readers. --Dale Edwyna Smith


Publisher's Weekly Review

Beloved novelist James Michener, who died in 1997, was an odd and secretive man. Silverman, his close friend of 50 years, didn't know of his first marriage until the author's second wife, Vange, announced to friends that his divorce had come through and they were headed for city hall. Both men grew up poor and fatherless in Pennsylvania (Michener was raised by a penurious widow who may not have been his birth mother), first meeting in 1947 at a group for liberal WWII veterans. In most respects Michener and Silverman, a gregarious swimming-pool manufacturer, were a study in contrasts. Here, Silverman explores but never fully explains the contradiction between Michener the expansive populist chronicler and Michener the reticent, closely guarded, frugal multimillionaire. Nor does he delve into the meaning of some of Michener's stranger behavior (he owned several homes, for example, but didn't set foot in some of them for years at a stretch). The two friends discuss everything from censorship to politics (the author of Centennial and Hawaii ran for Congress in 1962 as a Democrat in Republican-dominated Bucks County, Pa.), but not much on a personal level. Silverman, a founder and chairman of the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., also tells how his own request that Michener donate $1 million to the museum led to an impasse in their friendship. The writer issued the check but, resenting having been put on the spot, refused any contact with his friend for a brief period. The conflict was never addressed; Michener called one day and the friendship simply "took up where it had left off." For all his eccentricities, Michener was clearly quite dear to Silverman. In this candid portrait, he emerges as a true citizen of the world. Photos. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Recessional On Monday, October 6, 1997, I was working in my office when Jim Michener's longtime literary assistant, John Kings, called from Austin to say that Jim wanted to talk to me and my wife, Ann. John suggested that I call Jim in about an hour, after he woke from his afternoon nap.     I was immediately apprehensive. Jim was 90 years old, and very frail. Earlier that year I had flown to Texas to visit Jim, and when I left him, I didn't think he was going to live much longer. He was so weak and emaciated. His mind was still sharp and his speech was unimpaired, but I feared then that I wasn't going to see him alive again.     Nearly four years earlier Jim's kidneys had failed, and he was undergoing dialysis every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The three-hour treatments exhausted him, and he spent most of the rest of those afternoons sleeping. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he was able to devote his energy to the writing projects that still occupied his mind, but he spent much of his time in a large reclining chair, where he wrote, ate, and often slept.     The fact that Jim wanted to speak to us on the telephone only made me more uneasy. In the fifty years we'd known one another, we'd had many conversations in person lasting many hours and ranging across so many topics. But Jim disliked speaking on the telephone and seldom called anyone. When we did speak by phone, it was usually at my initiative, and it was usually a brief conversation.     I went home to make the call. Ann had just come home, and she took the other phone. Jim answered with a strong voice, and I started out by being cheery, telling him about the party our family had given Ann and me for our fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. Then I asked how he was feeling.     There was a pause.     "Herman, I think the end of the road has come, as it does for all people," Jim said. "The doctors have told me I have a terminal condition. And because some complications have set in, I have decided to stop my dialysis treatment."     We all knew what it meant. Without dialysis, he would die in just a few days.     Jim had explored many of the issues affecting the aging in his novel, Recessional , which had been published three years earlier, and recently he had been asked by a newspaper reporter if he had ever considered "pulling a Kevorkian"--finding someone to help him commit suicide.     "I don't have to pull a Kevorkian," Jim had replied. "All I have to do is pull the dialysis tubes."     Both Ann and I said how sorry we were that he was stopping treatment.     "It's a hard decision to make," Jim admitted.     As she always did during our phone conversations while Jim was ill, Ann asked the pertinent questions: "Jim, are they keeping you comfortable? Are you in pain?"     To our relief, he told us he was not in pain. And then, for the first time in the five decades of our friendship, Jim told us what we had always taken for granted--that he loved us, and our daughters, and that we had been important in his life.     "I wish we were all together again," he said.     "We've had some wonderful times and I will miss them. ... Goodnight."     After we hung up, I called John back to ask what had happened to prompt Jim's decision. John told me that Jim had developed gangrene in his left little toe and had had it amputated. His doctors wanted to add yet another day of dialysis treatment to his weekly schedule and to increase the length of the treatments from three hours to four. Jim had just recently undergone surgery to replace the dialysis catheter, because the old one had become clogged, causing an infection. These latest developments were enough to persuade him it was time to withdraw from treatment altogether.     Over the next ten days, we called often to check on Jim's condition. At one point, the news was bright--his kidneys were functioning on their own for the first time in three and a half years. He was also eating more, and had asked one of his assistants to bring him some "fried chicken, baked beans, mashed potatoes, and gravy--heavy on the mashed potatoes and gravy."     But the good news did not last. Late in the afternoon of Thursday, October 16, Jim died.     In preparation for his death, Jim had dictated a letter to his friends which was reprinted and distributed at his funeral service at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Austin: It is with a real sadness that I send you what looks to be a final correspondence between us. The medicos have left little doubt that this present illness is terminal. I approach this sad news with regret, but not with any panic. I am surrounded by friends who support me in these final moments with the same high spirit they have displayed in the past.... I reach the end of my life with almost daily phone calls with beloved friends. Their spirits keep me alert and their reminiscences keep me alive. A constant hum of phone calls keeps me in touch with friends, who bring me joy and a sense of continuing life. I wish I could visit with each of you, but that would be impossible. The phone calls, however, recall the highlights of an exciting life. And they cascade back now to remind me of the highlights: the running for political office, and the drubbings we took there; the victories we had in the theaters. I savor every memory, as they parade past. What a full life they made. And what a joy they bring me now; what a joy your recollection of them gives me now. It is in this mood that my final days are being passed. And I thank you all for your thoughtfulness. Fondly, James A. Michener     Long before his death, I had done a lot of thinking about my friendship with Jim, and about all the time Ann and I and our four daughters had spent in his company. And I had thought, too, of the question so many people asked over the years, when they learned that he and I were friends: "What's Michener really like?"     Jim never thought of putting himself forward as a celebrity, or of publishing an autobiography or a book of his own letters. But often, when we were together in a small-town bookstore or at a roadside picnic stand and I would get it into my head to let the people there know that Jim Michener was right there among them, he would graciously respond to their attention. He understood that people admired him and were curious about him. He also knew I had kept the hundreds of letters we had written to each other across the years. On several occasions I discussed with Jim my idea of writing a book to chronicle our friendship and publish some of these letters, and he gave his consent to the project without any questions or restrictions.     There are sure to be biographies of Jim--the last time I saw him, he told me that at least three were in the works--but they will contain few of the incidents which I remember most vividly. What I want to share are the intimate, personal times we shared as friends.     Throughout the fifty years of our friendship, I knew Jim as a man of integrity, loyalty, and good humor. I don't mean to say that Jim didn't have his faults or failings. His own emotions were so tightly contained, and his focus on his work so intense, that he could be oblivious to the feelings of others. Many's the time I would remind him to acknowledge some honor or favor with a note; for example, he attended the wedding of only one of our daughters, and didn't respond to invitations to two others.     Even now, Ann and I have differing views on this aspect of Jim. I looked at Jim as though he could do no wrong, and Ann looked at him as though he could do wrong--and did! I really had him on a high plane. Ann had a more pragmatic view: "Aloof," she calls him. We still have good-natured arguments about his personality.     After Jim died, Ann and I were remembering a weekend when we had a house filled with guests, many of them people Jim knew well. He came in, walked right into the den, turned on the television, and closed the door. "I don't think he even said hello to anyone," Ann recalled.     "He was very different from most people you would meet," I reminded her. "But he fit right in with the family--or did he?"     "Not really," she told me. "He wasn't the kind of person who walked in and became attached. But he was welcome and he was pleasant, and we didn't expect anything of him. There was that early period when Jim wasn't famous, when we were the only friends he had."     "That's because he was so shy," I said.     "He was rude !" Annie insisted.     " Shy !" I shot back.     " Rude !"     We burst out laughing. The truth is, Jim probably was a little of both. Ann likes to say that having Jim in the house was not like having another child, but more like having an adult who needed a home. She thought of him as tremendously vulnerable. He needed us.     Ann may be right about Jim having his faults, along with his strengths.     My memories of Jim are all sweet. Copyright © 1999 Herman Silverman. All rights reserved.